Hesperian Health Guides

Caring for the body for good health

In this chapter:

For a woman to stay healthy in pregnancy — or anytime — it is wise for her to keep clean, exercise, and get plenty of rest.

Keep clean

Keeping the body clean helps prevent infections. If possible, the mother should regularly wash her body, including her genitals, with clean water.

Care for the teeth and mouth

Healthy teeth help a person’s whole body be healthy, and care for the teeth is especially important in pregnancy because unhealthy teeth can lead to gum infections. This can cause a baby to be born too early.

In some places there is a saying, “Have a baby, lose a tooth.” But this does not have to be true! A woman can protect her teeth in these ways:

MW Ch4 Page 43-1.png
Clean the surfaces of all the teeth, between the teeth, and the gums every day.
  • Eat calcium-rich foods.
  • Avoid sweets, candy, and soda pop.
  • Clean the teeth after every meal with a soft brush, tooth stick, or rough cloth. Toothpaste, salt, or plain water on the brush are
    helpful but not necessary.

To make a tooth-cleaning stick:

MW Ch4 Page 43-2.png
MW Ch4 Page 43-3.png
Sharpen this end to clean between the teeth. Chew on this end and use the fibers as a brush. Or tie a piece of rough cloth on the end of a stick.

If possible, everyone should see a dentist or dental worker regularly.


2 women thinking while they work, one in a field and the other at a sewing machine.
What a long day! I can't wait to sit down and rest.
I'm so tired of sitting! I need to get some exercise. Maybe I should walk home.

Exercise makes a woman’s body stronger. During pregnancy, exercise helps her body get ready for labor and birth. Exercise can also help a woman have energy, feel happy, and sleep well.

Many women get all the exercise they need by hauling water, working in the fields, milling grain, chasing after children, and walking up and down hills.

Women who work sitting or standing (in offices, stores, or factories, for example) or who do not move around much during the day usually need more exercise. They can take long walks, dance, do physical work, or find another way to move.

Squeezing exercise (Kegels)

The squeezing exercise strengthens muscles in the pelvis and vagina. Doing the squeezing exercise can help to:

a woman thinking while she sits and works with another woman.
I'm doing my squeezing exercise and Amana doesn't even know.
  • prevent leaking urine.
  • prevent the vagina from tearing during birth.
  • speed healing after birth.
  • increase sexual pleasure.

A woman can learn this exercise while she is urinating. As the urine comes out, she should squeeze the muscles in her vagina until the urine stops. Once she learns how to squeeze these muscles, she should only do it when she is not urinating.

The squeezing exercise is helpful at all times, not just during pregnancy. If possible, women should practice at least 4 times a day, doing at least 10 squeezes each time.

Sleep, rest, and relax

Sleep and rest help women stay strong and resist sickness. Getting enough rest also helps prevent high blood pressure, sick babies, and other problems.

MW Ch4 Page 44-2.png

Many women must work all day in fields, factories, or stores. Then they must also haul water, find fuel, mill grain, cook, clean, and care for their families. This can be very hard at any time. It can be especially hard for pregnant women who need more rest than usual.

Explain to pregnant women that it is important for them to rest for a few minutes every 1 or 2 hours. Help the woman’s family understand why it is important for her to rest and sleep.

MW Ch4 Page 44-3.png

Enjoy the pregnancy

If women have enough food, rest, and care, pregnancy can be a wonderful time.

Many communities have rituals and practices that honor a pregnant woman. People help her with her work, bring her special foods, or give her massages or gifts. Customs like these help a woman get the food and rest she needs, and help her feel good about herself and her pregnancy.

This page was updated:24 May 2023